The Context for Today – Meditations for the Time of Retreat – 18th Century Wisdom
It is often important to set historical writings into their proper context. Or put another way, to seek to understand how something written centuries ago can remain relevant for today. And so in this introduction, that is precisely the task.
It is hard to know to what degree Saint John Baptist de la Salle understood where the community of brothers would go. It is hard to imagine that he could have seen them becoming what they became. After all, at one point, during the Heroic Vow, there were only three brothers!
Yet the reality of the tremendous growth of the brothers is testimony that there is something authentic in the wisdom De La Salle provided for the brothers to look at their own ministries and their vocations.
Evaluate for Today
As the introduction points out, there is also the need to evaluate the degree to which the mediations of de la Salle are still helpful today. To be sure, he was writing for a particular context with particular needs of the Church in his day.
At the same time, it is the case that in the world of education today, especially Catholic education there is the reality that what he had to write is still good for us today. The wisdom, of course, is to separate the timeless from the time bound.
Some Vocabulary is Returning
While the introduction mentions certain phrases that may not still be as common as they once were, there has been some attempt to unpack the meaning of these phrases in the modern context. For example, the notion of a corrupt nature is now often referred to as “fallen nature” and even then there is the theological desire to indicate how on the one hand we are good in our very existence, at the same time sin has had some effect on us.
It is the case that notions of angels and the devil are also making a comeback in terms of theological vocabulary. Those who have experienced the deep suffering of addiction, war, poverty, abuse and more can certainly find room to understand good and evil in the context of angels and the devil.
A World that is Changing Rapidly
To be sure, it is still the case that we have to understand these words in a way that helps us to grow closer to God today. And it is also the case that there have been tremendous advances in pedagogical research and understanding of the learning process. Moreover, how the tools used to facilitate this learning have evolved is amazing.
The other challenge has to do with the idea of how a single person, or even a group of persons journey in faith can be used today. It is not wrong to suggest that every one’s context for faith is unique to them. And, given the very personal nature of De La Salle’s relationship to his brothers, there are those aspects of what he shares and writes that must be difficult to understand.
This is the way relationships work. If the recent and current pandemic teaches us anything, it teaches us about the importance of face to face encounter. It is obvious this was important to de la Salle, and indeed it remains important still today.
Fidelity to the Mission Today
What is most important is to understand that the reading of these mediations must not be done in a slavish following of doing exactly everything de la Salle did. Rather, it is important to see that the mission and the vocation today requires a fidelity to the way of life that was set forth, and to meet the needs of people today.
“Attention to the present, remembrance of the past, and hope for continuity of the project for the future all take place within the historical process by which the Brother is progressively integrated into a Community with a specific purpose.” In other words, fidelity to de la Salle is a discernment for the brothers today.
This is the way in which de la Salle wanted it. He wanted the brothers to control their own discernment of God’s will. He did not want the brothers to be governed by clerics. So fidelity to the mission is fidelity to the process modeled by de la Salle.
Lasallians Minister to Students
To that end, one expression a brother might be more likely to use today is to replace purpose with relationship. While the ministry has a purpose, it is more appropriate to identify for whom the purpose is being lived. There is always this integral connection between the presence of God in the world, and the presence of God that is the persons to whom the brothers minister.
“Meditations for the Time of Retreat questions the educator at the very heart of a spiritual way of life: the fulfillment of the ecclesial charism received for the benefit of the body of Christ growing up in the world.” The ultimate challenge is to see the work that Lasallians do as deeply connected to the universal call to holiness that is personal to each of us.
And so what we can gain from de la Salle is the understanding of a celebration of the work of God. It is a celebration of openness to God, gratitude for his presence, and to the grace that allows the brothers and indeed all Lasallians to live the mission given to them by God.
Questions to Ponder
In what ways are you challenged between the faith you had in the past and the needs of the Church today?
How is it that the way you have experienced God in your life has changed or grown?
How do you understand the notion of fidelity to the mission of de la Salle in the ministry of schools today?